Tony Alva is one of skateboarding’s legends. There’s no doubt about that. But by his own admission, he was also a massive egomaniac, an alcoholic and a womaniser. At 61-years-old, Alva has been through a lot and turned some positive corners along the way. So when TA came to Sydney for the House of Vans in early 2019, we caught up for a chat about how he’s survived 50 years of skateboarding.
As told to Trent Fahey // Photo by Wade McLaughlin.
Futuristic boards, beautiful skateparks
I started at 10, riding clay wheels and a hand-shaped piece of wood with roller skate trucks on it – whatever I could get. I think I had as much fun riding that shit back in the day as I do now riding these futuristic boards and all these beautiful skateparks. That’s why I still surf and skate. I still have as much fun as ever.
Australia has always been really interesting to me. On our first trips down here, we’d make a trip to Canberra; try to make a trip down to Melbourne; occasionally we’d do trips up to the Gold Coast. But my epicentre in Australia has always been Sydney. Sydney’s my city in Australia. It reminds me of Los Angeles a little bit, the place that I was born and raised. I feel comfortable here. If I were to move to Australia, I’d move down to the Ulladulla area in New South Wales, on the coast. I like it down there.
All hail Dorfus Dorfus
[Tim McDougall] was my favourite overall, as far as Australian skaters go. To me, he was a real representation of what Australian skateboarding looks like when it’s done well. He used to come to The States and do little tours with us, and we went to Adelaide and visited his area where he was born and raised. It was interesting. That guy, man, everything he did was big. And he had a really smooth style. He was a good guy too. He was very, very nice and a family man.
Stacy Peralta was the first guy to get signed up on the Vans team and help them design and promote The Era. That shoe was the first real skate shoe that they made for us, as team riders, and that was the beginning for me. Getting sponsored by Vans was a big deal to us. When we were kids, we didn’t have anything. We were lucky if we had a good pair of Vans and a nice board to ride. We would ride our shitty boards into the ground.
Sobriety – “I had to, man”
I finally got to the point where drinking was destroying my happiness in my life. Every time I drank hard, I crashed emotionally and spiritually, and I felt incomprehensible demoralisation. It was just a low point for me, so when I got tired of doing that, I was like, there’s got to be a solution to this type of behaviour. Basically, a spiritual practice in my life led to a sense of balance that had absolutely nothing to do with anything outside of me.
It was an inside job. Once I cleaned up the inside I could really work on that. It’s prayer and meditation. Basically, believing in a higher power, something bigger than myself. Turning my will and my life over to what I would call, God. But then at the same time, it’s not a big religious philosophy. It’s not, it’s more of a surrender to something, to what indigenous people would call, the Creator. And then meditation is just listening and feeling for some sense of direction, which I call intuition.
I found with sobriety, being clean and being able to think clearly, I started to make better decisions. My dad was an alcoholic, and his dad was an alcoholic, so I was going to break the cycle. But just in me. I’m not worried about other people, places and things. The only thing I can change is me. There’s no such thing as perfect moderation for me. I’m a drinker, I’m a drugger, I’m a womaniser. So I’m going to stay attached to something that’s new and different for me: abstinence, clean living. So here I am, almost 12-and-a-half years later. I did it one day at a time, celebrated a year sober, and I was like, “I can do this.” And it’s working. I feel happy, I feel clean, I feel alive. I like the direction I’m going now. So that’s my life. I stuck to it.
Even though I’m 61-years-old, I’m just one of the kids, man. I’m out there skating just like the kids, having fun and I’ve got nothing to prove. I’ve already done it all. I’ve done everything that I could do. When it comes to competitions, movies, books – all that’s recorded in history. What more is there for me to do? I’m just going out there to have fun and skate for the pure enjoyment of it. I don’t think anybody expects me to go out there and blast a 540 or do a nollie kickflip over a handrail. They’re not expecting that from me.
Not too exclusive
The kids are stoked when they can come up and get a poster signed and say hello and be one-on-one with you. That’s important. That’s the best part about skateboarders, I think. The heroes of skateboarding, the legends – supposedly – we’re accessible. We’re not like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan where there’s a team of secret service guys around them. That’s part of being a professional skateboarder, we’re not too exclusive.
Progress not perfection
My life is about progress, not perfection. One day at a time. That’s just how it works for me. It’s not complicated. It’s not that difficult. It’s a really simple solution to a complicated mind. I head into the light every day. I don’t go in the dark. I know where the dark is, too. It’s in selfishness and self-centred behaviour. That’s me. But if I go back to the egocentric guy that I was when I was 19-years-old, I’ve just regressed 40 years. Why would I want to do that? I’m going to move forward. I look back on my life and I think, everything that I did back then is what got me here. And I’m stoked that I made it here. Jay [Adams] is not here. Baby Paul [Cullen] is not here. There’s a list of guys – they’re all gone, man. So, what is my goal right now in life? I think it’s to carry on the tradition and connect the dots.